Reading Rules! Building an appetite for reading in the classroom

Words By Jon Love @jonthelegend

I recently posted on Twitter about how I impressed I was that after effectively three weeks back at school, my class had managed to clock up over three and a half million words on Accelerated Reader (AR).

It got a few likes and a few comments about how this was achieved, how AR worked in my classroom and how my class seemed so fired up about reading.

Here, I’ll attempt to describe some ways in which I go about trying to develop a deep enjoyment (not necessarily love) of reading in my class.

 

Read for fun

When I first started teaching, I was eager to share my love of reading and the vast reserve of quality books out there with my new class. I built reading for pleasure time into the day. I loved it. Many of the kids did too.

Unfortunately, the management team at that time did not. They did not see the benefit in children ‘just’ reading for pleasure without an adult there with them guiding them through the more nuanced sections of the text or highlighting subtle subplots and themes. I was forbid to do it.

Thankfully, the younger version of me was quite the rogue and I went ahead and did it anyway. I took it underground. Fast forward to today and in my current school free reading time is valued and takes place in nearly all classes.

This environment leaves the way clear for me to push ahead fully with nurturing a reading culture within the class.

 

Know your class

Before diving in with a class text, take the time to find out what your class is like. What are their interests? What is hot in the class at that moment? What are they naturally drawn to?

With my new class this year I was in the fortunate position of having had them for a week at the end of the previous academic year. During Daily Mile and daily interactions, I discovered a love of Manga, of Studio Ghibli films and Teen Titan cartoons.

They loved all things spooky and dark so we watched the short film >Alma<, by ex-Pixar animator Rodrigo Blaas, and they just adored it. I felt like I had just the book – and even better, the series of books – for them come the new academic year.

 

 Keep it secret, keep it safe.

Something I love to do when starting a new book with the class is to not let them know what the book is. I cover the cover. There is no preamble about the author or what the title may mean. There is no chat about the blurb or who the book may be aimed at.

I dive in with the first two chapters and take it from there. The class have to judge the book on the story rather than the cover art or the story title. I’ve done this many times and it works incredibly well. In this instance, the class were instantly absorbed.

The questions they had! The discussion across the classroom! I answered most enquiries with just a smile and the response, “let’s read on and find out shall we?”

The fact the book in question had short chapters and cunningly crafted cliff-hangers was an added bonus… this I had, of course, factored in for my class.

When the bell has gone for break-time and the class are begging for another chapter you know you’re onto a winner.

 

Love the book yourself

I have a sign on my desk that says ‘Mr Love is reading… ask me about it!’ I do this to show that I read. I talk about the books that I am reading. I tell the class about the awesome books that are awaiting them for when they get older.

I talk to them about the books they love. Be passionate about the book you are reading. Don’t fake it, they’ll know. Also, read it well. Read with expression – do the voices. Always with the voices! If the book calls for a shriek then do it. If a character is yelling in pain or fear or anger then read it like that.

It sounds obvious but ask yourself how often you do you overhear a teacher next to you yelping and howling and growling whilst reading to their class. Stalk the room as you read… move about and allow the story to come from all around them. Set the scene.

Like we would when Big Writing, set the room up. My class know when we are going to read as I close the blinds and turn the lights off. Build an atmosphere. All these things help with engaging the class in the story. If you buy into the story, then they will follow you.

 

Connect with the author

One of the things I love most about social media is the way in which it makes authors and other creators so accessible to those of us who love their work. My class and I were about a third of the way through the rollercoaster ride of Darren Shan’s >Cirque Du Freak< when one of my girls whispered aloud to the class “It’s just like The Greatest Showman… but without the songs and happiness.”

I loved how she connected the common themes of two very different stories across two different mediums. At break, I tweeted the comment and tagged in the author. By dinner he had liked, responded and asked permission to use the quote on his Facebook page. Needless to say the child in my class was thrilled when she heard the news!

The rest of the class were delighted to be interacting with the author of the book in this way. It made them feel special. For this, I secretly loved him just a wee bit more. Armed with this new knowledge, the class now started posing questions to the author about creative choices. They offered their feedback on the pros and cons of the book. They were starting to critique!

 

It’s not for all

Exhaust the text types that the class is exposed to. Have a diversity of texts available for the class to choose from. Fiction including graphic novels (or comics if you prefer) and choose your own adventure stories like the ever brilliant >Fighting Fantasy< series (the canon now newly added to by the ever brill Charlie Higson).

Non-fiction – in all it shapes and forms – including newspapers, magazines, natural history, history (horrible and otherwise), biographies, books about supercars etc. Get to know your class and find books on the things they are interested in.

But it is worth bearing in mind that despite all of this, reading is not for everyone. Take mandate number one on Daniel Pennac’s >The Rights of the Reader<; the right not to read. And that should also be okay.